Revolutions and Conflict
Political revolutions are periods of drastic change in any aspect of government. This can range from changes in leadership to the advent of new political ideas or a return to previous policies. Regardless of what brought on the change, revolutions tend to be bloody and violent. Conflict results when one person or a group do not feel inclined to give over any amount of power to another group or individual.
Being forced to give over control of a government means an end to power and an end to the way of life a government has created for the people of its nation. Revolutions can be for the better, especially when oppressive governments are overthrown. However, the opposite has happened in history when oppressive governments are replaced with even more oppressive ones. The overthrow of stable, prosperous governments seldom happens because, simply, people are happy and tend to want things to stay the way they are. When revolution is in the air, people and ideas will certainly be in direct conflict with one another. The following are brief synopsis’ of the various political revolutions occurring in global history.
Political Conflict in China
China was considered to be within the sphere of British influence, one of the forms imperialism can take. Britain never completely or directly controlled the Chinese government, led by royalty, but did influence political and economic affairs heavily. By the end of the 19th century, British control was beginning a slow withdrawal from China. It is at this point that nationalistic movements began succeeding where previous ones had failed. In early 1900’s, there was a successful overthrow of the Emperor called the Chinese Revolution. This revolution was led by Sun Yixian who went on to establish the Kuomintang and be elected as a provisional president of a democratic government. His principles were restoring Chinese pride, removing foreign influence, individual rights, land reform, and modernization. His successor was Jiang Jieshi, who would lead the Kuomintang using the same principles. Conflict was necessary to force change
Another Chinese Nationalist leader, named Mao Zedong, was in direct opposition to the democratic principles of Jieshi and the Kuomintang. Mao was a Marxist who followed the principles of communism, as opposed to capitalism. Mao won the favor of the Chinese people during the Communist Revolution against Jieshi. Mao’s Long March was an event in which 100,000 communists walked nearly 6,000 miles while under constant fire from the Kuomintang. It became Mao’s symbol of perseverance and helped him rise to power after the Japanese invasion of China during the Second World War was finally halted. After defeating Jieshi, Mao assumed power in 1949 as the communist leader of the People’s Republic of China. To study conflict during the communist rule, please refer to the Social and Cold War pages on the Conflict site.
Nationalism and Conflict in Europe
Following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, the major European powers of the day met in Vienna, Austria to establish a plan of peace and discuss the realignment of territorial borders. The European powers present at the Congress of Vienna included Austria, France, Prussia, Russia, and England. Headed by Austria’s Prince Metternich, the Congress of Vienna attempted to stem the tide of nationalism sweeping across Europe.
Metternich believed nationalism created disorder because it fostered bloody revolution. The Congress of Vienna sought to restore absolutist ruling families to the thrones of Europe and maintain a balance of power. A balance of power means that one nation should not be allowed to dominate and come into conflict with other nations. The Congress of Vienna was successful in suppressing nationalistic movements from 1815 to 1848, however, nationalism eventually returned to the Europe. Nationalistic movements in Italy and Germany resulted in unified, sovereign nation-states after periods of open war within the borders.
Although the unification of Italy was successful, conflict did divide the people for a time. The political structure of the Italian peninsula prior to 1861 was that of a fragmented group of small kingdoms and principalities. There was no political cohesion while internal fighting and rivalries were hampering any progress. However, the people of the Italian peninsula, shared language, culture and a historical background. Some Italian leaders began calling for nationalism with the goal of bringing Italy together into a sovereign nation-state with autonomous rule. The most famous of Italian nationalistic leaders were Count Camilo Cavour, Guiseppe Garibaldi, and Guiseppe Mazzini. Mazzini was instrumental in being the “soul” of Italian nationalism. He also established the secret society known as Young Italy, an organization devoted to a united Italy. Garibaldi was considered to be the “sword” of Italian nationalism. His band of Red Shirts conquered forces opposed to unification and forced southern Italy into a cohesive political unit. Cavour (shown here) was the “brain” in his role as a skilled diplomat. Cavour successfully received aid from France in a war against the Austrians and eventually put Victor Emmanuel II on the throne of a completely united Italian nation-state in 1861.
Germany, was also fragmented. For many of the same reasons, there was a nationalistic movement calling for the unification of Germany. Many felt that to be considered a legitimate nation with political power on the international scene, Germany would have to have autonomous sovereignty. Of all the German states, Prussia was the most powerful, dominating the other, smaller states. Prussia was ruled by Kaiser Wilhelm, however, the person with the most power was Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck, shown here. It was Bismarck who strengthened German unity and power by calling on the nationalistic tendencies of the German people. Bismarck was able to unite Germany through his policy of Realpolitik, or realistic politics, which is a Machiavellian “end justifies the means” approach to strengthening and uniting Germany. Bismarck was a strong proponent of “Blood and Iron”. Blood represented the sacrifices the German people would have to make in achieving the goal of unification. A culture of militarism, or the glorification of the military, was created by the crafty Bismarck. This played out in a series of wars against the Austrians and the French. Iron represented the need to industrialize. Bismarck saw that in order to be a world power, Germany would have to catch up with much of the rest of Europe in the areas of technology and factory production. In 1871, Bismarck succeeded in placing Wilhelm on the throne of a unified Germany. German power achieved through nationalism would foster a period of imperialization and would set the stage for the outbreak of World War I.
Political Conflict in Russia
The struggle of the common people in Russia at the turn of the 20th century resulted in a conflict that reshaped the history of that century. Early in his reign, Czar Nicholas II was resisting pressure to reform his country with modernization. This created a volatile situation that would eventually be his undoing. Terrible living and working conditions and the embarrassing loss to Japan in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 resulted in massive riots throughout Russia. The czar responded by ordering troops to fire into crowds. The events leading up to and including these massacres are known as the 1905 Revolution. Nicholas II maintained his power but was frightened into forming the Duma or parliament. While technically a constitutional monarchy, the Duma had little real power.
Nicholas II made his gravest error when he brought Russia into World War I. The Russian Army was weak, untrained, and unequipped. The war devastated the economy and made life at home virtually unbearable. Also, scandal in the royal family surrounding the infamous advisor Rasputin (shown here), further angered the public. Nicholas II lost all authority in Russian cities and was forced to give up the throne while a temporary Provisional Government formed by the Duma took control. Within a short time, the entire royal family was murdered while they slept.
The democratic Provisional Government was an utter failure. Astoundingly, the head of the government, Kerenskii, chose to stay in the war. The Bolshevik party used public unrest to undermine the authority of the government and spread the ideology of communism. The Bolshevik leader, Lenin, promised “bread, peace, and land” to the working class of Russia. Lenin and the Bolsheviks violently seized power in 1917 and immediately got out of the war with Germany. However, Lenin (shown here) was forced to give up large amounts of territory to Germany in war reparations. This resulted in further conflict between the Red Bolsheviks and the White anti-Bolsheviks which included supporters of the Provisional government and of the czar system. The civil war lasted until 1921 with Lenin emerging victorious. The Soviet Union was formed, which would shape world history for the remainder of the 20th century.
Political Conflict in Latin America
There were a series of conflicts in various portions of Latin America that would have tremendous impacts. Mexico had gained its independence from Spain in the early 1800’s and had established a monarchy of its own. However, over the course of the century, Mexico experienced instability and ineffectiveness. The aggressive dictatorship of Santa Anna only resulted in the loss of land to the United States.
His replacement, Juarez, attempted to establish democratic ideals but never truly succeeded. His successor, Diaz, achieved some level of stability and prosperity for the upper classes but removed democracy in order to do so. Life for the peasants was brutal during this time and is the source of the conflict called the Mexican Revolution. In 1911, the dictator Diaz was overthrown when free elections were demanded by the rebels led by Madero. Madero was elected president but was assassinated within two years. The upheaval created in the wake of this event cause chaos in which a number of radicals controlled small portions of Mexico. Most infamous was the elusive Poncho Villa, seen here. After almost a decade, cooler heads eventually prevailed and democracy was allowed to take root with free elections. Mexico has maintained an adequate level of stability ever since.
The island nation of Cuba gained its independence from Spain in 1898 after Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the United States had a strong influence in Cuba. In 1933, Batista took control of Cuba and, although achieved political stability, the economy of Cuba was a disaster. In 1959, a rebellion led by Fidel Castro overthrew Batista and is referred to as the Cuban Revolution. Castro’s military was mostly made up of the Cuban working class and soundly defeated Batista’s army. Upon taking power, Castro gained the support of the Soviet Union in economic matters and political protection from the United States, as displayed in the Cuban propaganda poster displayed above. World focus was placed on conditions in Latin America after Castro began supporting rebellious movements in Bolivia, Columbia, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. The communist government of Cuba is still intact today under the leadership of Castro.
Political Conflict in the Middle East
During the 1960’s and into the 70’s, the Shah of Iran, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, instituted westernization programs designed to modernize the nation of Iran. Islamic Fundamentalists, strict followers of Islam, believed that westernization and modernization were in direct conflict with the traditional Islamic way of life. Pressure from the Iranian Revolutionary Council, led by religious leader the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, shown here, Pahlavi left Iran leaving Khomeini in control. Khomeini is considered a nationalist leader because he forced change in order to do what he felt was best for the Iranian people. Khomeini was an enemy of any foreign influence coming from the West, including the United States. Fifty-two American hostages were held against their will from 1979 to 1981. Islamic Fundamentalists are so religiously strict they have come in direct conflict with other Islamic nations, namely Iraq, over issues concerning oil and religious doctrine.